A Lakelander and Polk County School Board employee for 46 years | Has taught all grades K-5 and served as an assistant principal | Currently teaches second grade at Scott Lake Elementary
A t the beginning of this issue we revealed the origins of The Lakelander name, but who exactly is someone talking about when they say the now common moniker?
Instead of showing you data points or crafting an illustrative monologue of what we think a typical Lakeland resident embodies, we found individuals who we find are most characteristic of a Lakelander.
Take a peek into their lives and learn what is common and distinctive among our neighbors.
Mrs. Kennedy, as most people know her, deflects the idea that there has been a secret to her success as the longest active tenured teacher in Polk County Schools and instead focuses on why she still loves it.
In her second grade classroom at Scott Lake Elementary, she pulls several file folders with contents from years gone by to showcase what motivates her.
She pulls out a sloppy assignment with words written in a way that only teachers or parents of little ones can navigate, and then she pulls out a piece of paper with neat words assembled into properly ordered, meaningful sentences.
“That first one was at the beginning of the school year…and after many writing workshops, that second one is from the same student in March,” she says.
“You show a kid at the end of the year how far they have come and they can’t believe it…that’s the kind of thing that keeps me coming back.”
Her first teaching job in Lakeland was as a special education teacher at Oscar Pope Elementary in the mid-1970s, a time whenever it was the only special education program in the county, and students would be bussed in from as far away as Frostproof.
Fast forward to nearly half a century later and Kennedy was thrust into teaching in the middle of a global pandemic using unconventional methods that didn’t even exist when she became a teacher.
She grins when talking about how she transformed the front of her classroom into a hub for virtual teaching that allowed her to follow health safety protocols while educating students who were on iPads, computers and tablets at home. The school’s multimedia staff set her up with several different monitors, a camera for Zoom and all the tools she need to be able to teach from her Smartboard remotely.
“The principal came in that year, and one area I was pretty much always just an ‘effective’ teacher was in technology,” Kennedy says. “But she came in and said, ‘I’ve got to give you highly effective on this one!’”
Just as she has evolved as en educator, South Lakeland was just a pea in a pod that had yet to sprout when Kennedy started at Scott Lake.
“When we first moved here there was nothing, just a few homes…and nothing south of Hallam,” she says. “There were projections that it was going to really grow though.”
And clearly, it did.
Even though Lakeland is now one of the 25 largest cities in Florida, Mrs. Kennedy says that the family-first atmosphere has always made Lakeland attractive to her.
“I remember calling my mom when my son was in kindergarten going, ‘You won’t believe this. They know what he had for lunch and how long his nap was!” she reflects. “He was in school, not private school, but that’s just how family oriented this place is.”
Mrs. Kennedy loves the local restaurants and shops, but not surprisingly she also adores local treasures that provide educational opportunities for kids, mentioning the Mulberry Phosphate Museum as one of her favorites.
She plans on teaching for at least two more years, and then deciding whether to start her next chapter as a Lakelander or retreat to a home she has in New Hampshire.
If history is any indication, she may be saying “hello” to former students for years to come.